Let us pray...O God, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be pleasing to you, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.
Grace and peace to you brothers and sisters in Christ.
There is no rest for the weary! We hear that a lot. Maybe we even say it ourselves in the midst of our busy lives. But do the weary lack rest because they are weary or are they weary because they
lack rest? Perhaps both in some way. This saying has been around since the early 1900’s and
was a twist on Bible passages such as Isaiah 48:22 and 57:21 that state, “There is no peace for the wicked.” And in each of those chapters God mentions how His people did not follow His commandments, ended up suffering, yet God freed them anyway. Isaiah 57 describes God’s anger and at one point God says, “When you cry out, let your collection of idols deliver you!” As if to say, if you choose to live in the ways of the wicked and work for your idols and neglect what I have commanded you, then let the things you truly serve come and save you, not me. But soon after God contends “I will heal him. I will lead him and restore comfort to him and all those who mourn.”
We are commanded to “observe the sabbath day and to keep it holy.” When we read the commandments in Exodus we are told that since God rested on the 7th day, after 6 days of Creation, so we shall rest on the 7th day. That’s the ‘why’ we are usually given. Why should I go to
church? Because it’s the Sabbath and we are instructed to keep it holy and to worship and rest and do no work. Why? Because. That’s what God did and that’s what we are instructed, commanded, to do. But why?? It’s truly a parenting conundrum.
Our texts for today tell a slightly different story. In Deuteronomy we are instructed that no one or no thing in our care or that we are responsible for is to work on the Sabbath and we are equally commanded, “You shall remember” that God’s people were once slaves and God brought them out of slavery, freed them from their afflictions. Why observe the Sabbath? Because we remember being freed. The words of Jesus in Matthew remind us that God desires mercy, not sacrifice. To
observe the Sabbath is not intended to make us suffer, rather it’s a gift for renewal. A day where our work and our efforts and our progress and our status will not distinguish us from one another. We are all simply children of God, freed from and perhaps also for the world.
The placement of this commandment seems very interesting. It wasn’t placed 7th, for the seventh day, that would have worked out nice, nor was it placed last, as the proper ‘resting’ place or perhaps as an afterthought – like ‘okay I’ve got 9 let me make it an even 10.’ No, it’s 4th, in the middle, right in that place where we transition from focusing on only God to focusing on and serving our neighbor. Love God and love they neighbor.
This particular commandment places Sabbath, a time to rest, replenish, and remember being set free, after our devotion and commitment to the One God and before encountering our community. Why is it such a challenge to slow down, anyway? To actually rest? To not constantly stay busy? To say ‘no’ to work? Am I the only one who finds those ‘silence for reflection’ moments in the service awkward? Especially if they’re longer than 5 seconds? That’s precisely why they’re there! I can only really speak for myself, but when my mind has nothing in particular to focus on, no busy-ness to attend to, other things take its place. Things from deep down. Stuff I struggle with. Pain and guilt and shame and I’d really rather just leave it down there.
Addicts understand this. Veterans, Service Members and First Responders who have faced evil and experienced trauma understand this. We all, in our own way, understand this, even some kids, more than we can probably fathom. Quietness and stillness are often very difficult to live through. For some, sleep is impossible when the memories come flooding in, and drowning them with alcohol or drugs seems like the best or onlyoption.
When I came home from Iraq I could not stay in one place for very long. Thankfully I did not need to go back to work right away so I traveled around, over to Washington, across to Iowa and every state in between visiting friends and family. It’s like I had been inside this little globe for 15 months where time stood still and everything outside that globe moved on without me. I wasn’t sure if or where I fit in anymore and I didn’t want to stay anywhere long enough to find out if the answer
Sabbath is our chance to find that answer, to remember where we belong and to whom we belong. Although it might seem selfish, maybe Sabbath is rest for our inward journey. Perhaps we’re commanded to rest in order for fear, shame, guilt, and everything else that afflicts us to
find its way through us in order to move out. And what better place for that movement to happen than with and by the only True saving grace we have. Other promises of relief are sinking sand.
I often tell my kids that hurt people hurt people. If we lack peace within our own hearts it’s difficult to find peace anywhere around us and we are likely to cause unrest so it at least feels familiar and we feel like we belong. We encounter the world around us from the inside out. In fact, our conscious mind, what we are aware being in control of, only accounts for 5% of our actions. The rest are on autopilot, many of these being biological systems like breathing, and the rest are based largely on our values, beliefs and past experiences.
When people do hurtful things, on a large scale or a small scale, I wonder what kind of pain they are living with that helps them justify it. This doesn’t right their wrong in any way, that’s not up to me or anyone else. It does, however, help me pray for them individually in addition to praying for the situation as a whole. We are better equipped to be in relationship with others, when we regularly hear about how much God loves us. There will never come a time in our life when we no longer need to hear that.
Honor the Sabbath. Keep it holy. And loving God in the midst of our questions, and doubts, and anger, knowing we are loved through all of it, helps us find that same love for our neighbors, and opens a door of possibility for causing less pain in the process. We are better able to live out from a place of love rather than a place of fear or pain. All of the other commandments steer people way from affliction. They guide us to not be enslaved to idols, dishonor, murder, adultery, stealing, or slander in the first place. Steer clear and avoid these things.
This commandment releases the things that already harden our hearts and hold us back. The things we’ve already endured. Things we’ve done or left undone. Yet, it also reminds us of where our help comes from. Do this in remembrance. The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want. I shall not make the things I want an excuse for my busy- ness. He makes me lie down, rest, be still, where food and water are plentiful. This table He sets before us in the midst of a world full of temptations, tastier options, and shinier objects.
Remember when you were weary and needed rest or lacked rest and became weary and troubled. He restores your soul. Remember our journey out of the wilderness. Remember the work of that
journey was done for us out of love, unconditionally, and not done by us. If you are weary, Welcome in. Have a seat. How can we walk along side you?
If you seek rest, here’s your rest stop. There’s nourishment and a Companion who attends this place that will lift the burdens you carry off your shoulders. There’s fellowship. This place is filled with people like you who also seek Sabbath and rest. Now, when we depart and go our separate ways for the work that lies ahead, remember this place. Remember the journey that brought us here. Remember that you have been freed from your afflictions and brought out of the wilderness back home where you belong.